Lisanne Ballantyne is the president and chief executive officer of the Kelowna Tourism Association. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Banner year for Okanagan tourism predicted

Largely visiting Canadian tourists will invade valley from May-September

Tourism businesses are bracing for a banner year, says the CEO and president of Tourism Kelowna.

Lisanne Ballantyne said Kelowna is coming off six strong months of high hotel occupancy numbers, with January and February showing a five per cent gain over the previous year.

“We are feeling very optimistic — 2017 was a challenging year for us but we judge our tourism business by occupancy levels, so that is a telling indicator for a strong tourism season this year,” said Ballantyne.

Related: Overcoming floods and fires in summer 2017

This week Tourism Kelowna hosted its annual tourism showcase at the Laurel Packinghouse, with a notable difference from previous years.

Ballantyne said the event has gone regional, with tourism industry workers from Peachland to Lake Country invited to participate in the annual event.

“I think that reflects a growing recognition that if a traveler comes into the Okanagan, they don’t just stay in one place,” she explained.

“We are fortunate that Kelowna is a gateway entry point to the Okanagan, but a traveller may spend a couple of night here and move to other locations around the valley, so the front-line people want to know what’s going on across the whole valley.”

Tourism traffic will likely be comprised of about 12 per cent international visitors, and the rest come from across Canada, the bulk of them originating in Western Canada.

“We are happy for that, but an area of great interest for us moving forward is how we can work to attract more people here from the Pacific Northwest,” she said.

Ballantyne added that two big takeaways from the BC tourism conference hosted by Kelowna earlier this spring were collaboration among communities within a region and capabilities of big data research.

“Collaboration is an older word but when communities come together to promote tourism they are able to leverage each other’s budgets and knowledge to provide more re-visitor services.”

Related: Tourism industry embraces digital

Digital marketing was the buzzword phrase of the tourism convention, as Ballantyne noted technology offers a lot of trackable insights into a tourist’s visit from the minute they book their trip to when they go home.

“We can track how people arrive here, whether by car or air, and where they go and what they spend their money on while they’re here moving throughout the region.”

On the tourism promotion side, Ballantyne said construction on the new visitor information centre at the foot of Queensway Avenue on the downtown lakefront is on schedule and on budget.

She said the target for its opening is the July long weekend this summer.

“With the visitor centre, we are doing what so many others have already done. The traditional highway locations were intended to be where visitors could find us, but we’ve got to be where the traffic is,” she said.

In the Tourism Kelowna lakefront kiosk service, Ballantyne says about 400,000 people a year seek out information, reinforcing the need for a visitor centre to be situated where the most tourism traffic is congregating.

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